Out of production but far from forgotten, the Thunderhead served as the Commerce Republic’s main, and only, line combat ship from immediately after the end of The Struggle for the Seas until its retirement early in The Reformation War, some 220 cycles of service. In this time it saw only one structural revision, with every other variant only modifying onboard systems or other equipment. While different loadouts could push the vessel towards a low-capacity heavily-armored escort carrier or a fast, protected electronic warfare ship, the Thunderhead’s heavy armor, grand displacement, and utter reliability remained hallmarks of the model.
After the War for the Seas, ESIS needed to consolidate an increasingly varied fleet around a solid benchmark of performance. ESIS’ wartime fleet was a mismatch of competing designs from different firms and government departments, with many of the designs being direct copies of Era of Silence or even pre-Collapse vessels. While carriers could be easily standardized or accounted for based on their payload of aircraft, proper surface-to-surface combat vessels were more difficult to factor for. Enter the Thunderhead. Forged from the cooperation and competition of a half dozen powerful investors and accepting compromise from none, the Thunderhead was respected both by its ESIS operators and their former Unity enemies, who counted themselves lucky to have avoided dealing with the formidable new ship in open combat.
The Thunderhead was a 650 foot, 21,000 ton behemoth whose twin Thunderhammer emplacements, fan broadside torpedo tubes, and innumerable ‘defensive’ weapon systems could be commanded by a skeleton crew of twelve or reinforced with a compliment of up to 600 personnel. It’s deck was designed to sit low, skimming 2-6 feet above the water with a pair of combat submarine ballast systems to ensure a minimal profile without compromising seaworthiness. Twelve silo-configuration triple-redundant nuclear pellet reactors power its four colossal in-line hydroscrew engines. All this was sheltered within a reduced profile blast-directing harmonically tuned hull that could absorb a near miss from a multi-ton warhead and 15 billion credits of materials research alike. The Thunderhead was designed to match Unity war-era cruisers like the Dominion and Pride, and by all reasonable accounts would have been their superior, but the Unity’s own military revitalization soon yielded the impressive Sovereign. For all intents and purposes designed to square off, the Thunderhead and Sovereign never found a chance over the next two hundred cycles, and with the discontinuation of the Thunderhead seem destined to leave countless forum enthusiasts frustrated.
As the decades wore on with nary an expansive surface engagement in sight, the Thunderhead declined in numbers. Carriers once again became the center of the ESIS order of battle, newer hydrofoils offered significant mobility advantages over the bulky Thunderhead, and the further refinement of gyroships and military submarines offered some its more unique advantages in a more reliable package. As part of an effort to stimulate both skilled labor and national pride after the Advance Agriculture Famine (and conveniently just a few decycles before the Midstream War the Thunderhead was overhauled in 395. Sporting a new cannon, radical new adaptive ballast system with integrated vectored hydrojet engine (in addition to its existing propulsion), four additional silo reactors, new secondary weapon mounts, leaner hull, the typical electronic and sensory revisions, and a host of other minor tweaks, the plainly named Thunderhead II had all the clout and brutal realistic efficiency of its predecessor, but nevertheless found itself immediately thrust into an insurgency where it was forced to act either as tempting target, unintentional war crime, and expensive harbor wall. Though it (of course) performed admirably in its few opportunities to act as a surface superiority vessel, it was not enough to break the stigma of simply being a ship for a different time. The Reformation War confirmed this. The surprising quality of Rastakgic intelligence ensured Thunderheads (those not sunk in the initial attacks on Midstream) were either avoided or targeted with surprise actions using unpredictable and overwhelming force, neutralizing their many conventional advantages. Rastakgic naval strike groups often retreated into littoral environments that could prove catastrophic to the bulkier Thunderhead, preventing effective pursuit. As a result, production of Thunderheads was cancelled altogether early in the war, with the focus shifting entirely to existing carrier designs and new models of aircraft like the Vortex.
Only eight (of thirty-two active and eight retired) ships survived the war, and many of those were simply lucky enough to be in drydock for repairs when Jior fell. Two are privately owned. The Luckless remains maintained and moored in Riverstar, owned by the city. The fondly named Devil Drowner is still in active ESIS commission and calls Sunport home, while the Divine Steel remains technically actively but effectively retired in Midstream. Haven houses, ironically, the Newhold, which is used for both public demonstrations and government exercises, while the Cold Weight and Lieutenant Commander Crais are rumored to be fully functional, waiting for action in dry storage near Outreach.
Two more Thunderhead IIs are believed to be in unregistered hands. A number of Thunderhead I’s, as well as ample parts for both models, still exist in international circulation.